WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The state is satisfied, the school committees are united.
And the voters on Nov. 14 will have the final say on whether to expand the Mount Greylock Regional School District to include its two feeder elementary schools. The final proposal (added Nov. 1) it is at the end of the article, here.
In a special single-item meeting on Wednesday evening, the Mount Greylock School Committee voted unanimously on amended language to the regional agreement that earlier Wednesday received its final blessing from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Lanesborough's Board of Selectmen on Monday is scheduled to finalize a warrant for its Nov. 14 special town meeting, which will coincide with a Williamstown special town meeting that was officially scheduled by its Board of Selectmen two nights ago.
Although each town has added a number of unrelated matters to the mid-November meetings, the genesis of the meetings was a request by the Mount Greylock School Committee, along with its counterparts at Williamstown Elementary and Lanesborough Elementary, to finalize regionalization in time to expand the union effective Jan. 1, 2018.
Earlier this week, the Williamstown Selectmen declined to vote its recommendation on the question pending the final, DESE-approved language for the proposed regional agreement.
On Wednesday, Williamstown School Committee Chairman Joe Bergeron, one of the lead developers of the proposal, explained to his colleagues at Mount Greylock that the state offered just a couple of changes to the funding formula that school committees have been promoting since this summer.
Under the agreement that voters will consider, the two member towns in the Mount Greylock district would consider to fund the junior-senior high school as they already are. But the operating budgets for the two elementary schools will be assessed to each town irrespective of the other town's preK-6 assessment.
It is a different model for regional funding than is typical throughout the commonwealth, and it was the last piece of the agreement still under review by DESE when the week began.
On Wednesday, the state officials came back with two changes. One deals with how the local above-minimum contribution to education will be calculated. The other deals with what happens in the event the regional school district's budget fails to win approval at either town's annual meeting in the spring.
The "above minimum" question was resolved by a formula developed by DESE:
"An above minimum required local contribution for each building will be calculated by subtracting the building's portion of the minimum required local contribution from the building's budget as presented in (a.) above. The building's portion of the minimum local required contribution will be
calculated as follows:
i. Each elementary school's portion of the minimum required local contribution will be determined by the member town's minimum required local contribution multiplied by the town's PreK-6 Foundation Enrollment divided by the town's total Foundation Enrollment."
And "[e]ach member town will be apportioned 100 percent of its local elementary school building's above minimum required local contribution."
This embodies the spirit of the funding plan that school committee members have been explaining to members of the public and town officials in both towns for months.
The other change requested by DESE deals with the failure of the regional school district budget at town meeting and the implementation of a "one-twelfth" monthly budget by the following mechanism, outlined on the DESE website:
"If the operating budget for a regional school district has not been approved by July 1, the superintendent of schools shall notify the Commissioner, and the Commissioner shall establish an interim monthly budget for the regional school district. The interim monthly budget shall be one-twelfth of the regional school district's budget for the prior fiscal year or such higher amount as the Commissioner may determine. The interim monthly budget shall remain in effect until an operating budget is approved pursuant to 603 CMR 41.05(3) or December 1, whichever comes earlier."
Since the expanded Mount Greylock Regional School District budget would be outside the norm, it needs a new approach to assessing the "above minimum" portion of the monthly budget.
"If the budget fails to pass … you need to have a way to apportion operating costs above the required minimum that is simpler," Bergeron said. "We said: However it was broken down in the year prior, we do that in the current year.' "
DESE accepted that idea, and it was incorporated into the proposed agreement.
One more change since the most recent draft of the agreement circulated to town officials was requested by Lanesborough: switching the town's payment of its Mount Greylock assessment from a quarterly payment to a month-by-month schedule with 10 percent delivered to the district on the last day of each month from July through April.
The regional expansion plan already has been endorsed by Williamstown's Finance Committee. Lanesborough's Finance Committee met on Wednesday, and Mount Greylock School Committee Chairwoman Sheila Hebert, a Lanesborough resident, told her committee the Fin Comm session went well, although she and Lanesborough School Committee Chairwoman Regina DiLego had to leave Town Hall before the Fin Comm voted in order to make the 7 p.m. meeting at Mount Greylock.
Hebert joined other members of her committee in praising the work done by Bergeron and his local collaborators in crafting a agreement that satisfied Boston and local officials.
"I'm going to take this moment to thank Regina and Joe, [Mount Greylock Interim Superintendent Kim Grady] and [Mount Greylock SC member] Steve [Miller]. It's nice to see a document like this. I think it works really well.
"Anything going forward, if the three chairs want to do a campaign or anything, we're right there with you."
The school committees, who have held a number of public information sessions and presentations to town committees over the last few months, plans to tape a presentation for Williamstown's community access television station that will be shared with the station in Lanesborough and hold at least one more public information session prior to Nov. 14.
The Tri-District has background information and the proposed regional agreement posted here.
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